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Stick to planning issues, not politics
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I'm not - nor have I ever been - a big Walmart shopper.

Other than Christmas shopping, I find it too big for the few items I desire.

But I will defend Walmart's right, in a free enterprise system operating in the land of the free and home of the brave, to build stores where zoning and land use designation are in alignment.

And friends, the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center is proposed in an appropriately zoned place. No doubt about that. The uses are permitted as a right and the only uses that trigger a conditional use permit is alcohol sales and future restaurants on the site.

Thus, it was no surprise that most of the protesters at the Feb. 21 Planning Commission meeting were more interested in lambasting Walmart as an evil American corporation. (I found it ludicrous that CUSD trustee Betty Davis stated that she's opposed to the project because she doesn't like the fact that Walmart's educational foundation supports school vouchers. Can't get more political than that.)

The many union hacks who dispensed irrelevant opinions, wrong facts and outright exaggerations would have done well to remain to the end of the five-and-half hours (like I did) to hear one official note that this site has been zoned for a use like that of a Supercenter for 30 years.

For the commission to entertain the public's politics over Walmart - pro and con - was a huge waste of time and knocked everything off point. While I expected a long meeting and generally Bob Kachel did a great job on his first evening as chairman, he didn't pound the gavel when union folks went longer than five minutes and ignored his requests to not repeat what was already stated. This was a planning meeting so the commission should have cared less that Walmart gives millions to charity or donates bags of broken dog food to a local animal group. I would have delighted to hear, "Ma'am, don't mean to be respectful, but I could care less to hear your spin on Walmart being horrible to employees and the environment. Please focus on the specific project." Little of what was said was relevant to the actual planning issues.

I was bewildered by the seeming lack of preparation by the commission and some of the odd tangents they allowed themselves to get off on. Forget the fact that Mike Kline announced more than once that he read the EIR - he called it an ERA the entire night - cost him time weekend vacation time (he didn't study the massive document before then?), he seemed overly interested in whether or not the entire center would have a security camera aimed at the lot. (Security expert Bruce Schneier told CNN last year that no one looks at most closed circuit TV footage until after a crime is committed and they prove to mostly be worthless in identifying suspects.) Commissioner Laurie Smith pitched a tent on the "disappointing" level of landscape maintenance at the existing Ceres Walmart even though it is abusive customers who destroy it). And funny that Walmart landscaping wasn't that big an issue to warrant city action or an agenda item years ago, in answer to Burl Condit's assertion that it's been an eyesore for 17 years. She also threw a curveball in wanting to see Walmart pitch other building designs. Gary Del Nero offered a last-minute thought: Hey, we never talked about the drive-thru pharmacy.... (Why didn't he bring it up?) Then there was the blushing hesitancy of newcomer Luis Molina who after talking about the difficulty of the decision and not wanting to disappoint any side, desiring more development of that area but wanting to pleasing Don Pedro residents, tied it all together with a resolute: "I'm not ready to move on with this." He failed to articulate why, from technical planning reasoning.

Thank God at least Kachel - a retired county planner who knows his stuff - tried to educate and corral the focus on actual planning issues. Kachel noted: "I noticed there was very little talk about the EIR as being that's a big hurdle to overcome by itself."

The issue is not complex, folks. It's really a slam-dunk. The environmental impact report does state there will be impacts - there also would be for, let's say a Target - but that they all have been mitigated, including traffic. Walmart bought the 26-acre site, jumped through all the necessary governmental hoops, spent over four years and vasts amounts of money on planning, design and environmental studies, and now finally proposes a shopping center use for a vacant spot of land zoned for Regional Commercial.


It's just wrong to fight the project based on prejudices against the national retailer. To deny the project is, well, just anti-free enterprise and dare I say, anti-American and legally questionable. I'd never think to protest a store simply because I don't like their practices or their products. The world doesn't revolve around me and others just may want to do business there. Apparently 10,000 shoppers in the area who signed Walmart petitions like the idea of a Supercenter store here.

Call me nuts but the panel could dismiss the biggest legitimate issue - that of closing off project access to Don Pedro Road - by doing just that. Walmart's design team could surely figure out a way to deal with ingress and egress rather than face an outright denial.

Sheri Jacobsen, who threw everything she could muster at the project (really, did tearing down a shed on the vacant site years ago disrupt wildlife, vegetation and native American artifacts?) should level with everyone that she simply detests the Walmart corporation. She stated: "The root of the problem is that Walmart needs Ceres more than Ceres needs Walmart." Really? Is that why Ceres residents have made Walmart the largest sales tax producer in the city?

Ask yourself this: If a Kohl's or Target store was proposed for Mitchell and Service, would there be all this fuss be made about noise, traffic and air quality? Why did no one squawk about the Hampton Inn & Suites generating traffic when it was in its approval process in 2008 for ground opposite the Walmart Supercenter site? Was the gauntlet picked up this time because this is simply about a threat to union jobs?

If people want to decry the anticipated increase in traffic then they need to protest any other use for that property - or any parcel - for that matter. What should hold true of Walmart should apply to any other project. So why not protest any future Applebee's because it will generate more lunch and dinner traffic in Ceres? Deny Red Robin if they want to come in because of more noxious fumes. Protest the next Rite Aid because police time will be spent on writing police reports of shoplifters there. How far do we carry these flimsy illogical reasons?

And should Ceres adopt a protectionist, anti-competition policy against Walmart, they should apply it across the board. They'd have to halt Save Mart's plans to expand its Ceres store because that would definitely affect Richland Market or La Sequoia Market. And if a Safeway or Nob Hill Foods sniffs out Ceres, tell them hell no too.

See my point?

Since we're there, ask yourself: If Walmart is such a threat and could place Save Mart out of business, why is Save Mart proceeding with plans to expand its Whitmore Avenue store into the abandoned Rite Aid space? Did anything think that competition might actually be a good thing?

I smell a Planning Commission rejection coming on - and a certain appeal to the City Council. One thing is certain: Don't count on going shopping at a Supercenter in Ceres in 2012, 2013 or even 2014. If the council approves the project, expect high-priced union funded lawyers like Brett Jolley laughing all the way to the bank as he mires the Supercenter in litigation for years. If you don't believe me, research what he did in Chico.

The dog and pony show I saw on Feb. 21 is doomed to be repeated April 4. Hopefully the commission will not be knocked off center by focusing on political issues when this is a planning issue - period.

How do you feel? Let Jeff by e-mailing him at